By Gina Malone
When Crystal Cauley noticed that black culture was not fully represented in her native Henderson County, she wanted to do something. “Creating and integrating more black American cultural events using art, crafts, folklore storytelling and teaching is my lifelong goal,” she says. “Instead of focusing on why numerous contributions by this county’s black Americans have not been recognized, I made a challenge to tackle this issue.”
She contacted another Hendersonville native, Diamond Cash, an artist whose work she admires. The two combined visions and talents to conceive of and create a painting that would represent Henderson County, ethnic pride and African American ideals such as dreams, freedom, land and life.
Cash’s painting is titled Legacy, and Cauley says it represents beautifully what the project seeks to convey. “I was impressed how Diamond placed the hands in an extended position with one hand interlocking the shape of the county,” she says. “I love it and the picture speaks not just a thousand words as the saying goes; it speaks a million words.”
Cash, who lives in Greensboro, was fully on board when Cauley suggested they explore together the idea of an exhibition. “I thought this would be great exposure,” Cash says. “I knew this would also be a great thing that could help her reach out to let others know of this missing piece of the culture and roots of our county.”
The two held Hendersonville’s 1st Black Art and Craft Exhibition in March, and have since exhibited elsewhere, including at the Hendersonville Public Library. “There was artwork that celebrated history in a positive light,” Cauley says. The exhibition included statues from Ghana, carvings from Kenya and South Africa, and mud cloth scarves. The Malian mud cloths are traditionally dyed with fermented mud and plant dyes, and can be worn or used as home décor. “What’s unique about these is they’re telling a story,” Cauley says. “The symbols have a representation. I would love to take this into a school and have people touch it and feel it and see what mud cloth is.”
Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk presented Cauley and Cash with a Certificate of Commendation in May, and says she appreciates Crystal’s vision and work. “Her ongoing project, honoring the rich history of African Americans of Henderson County through professional artwork, will bring to life many of the oral stories that have been passed down,” Volk says. “Her efforts will teach and reach the younger generation of our community.”
Cash sees the project growing to include “more paintings, larger paintings, bigger art shows with more local African American artists, maybe even a mural located in Hendersonville and large installation pieces of art in a pop-up gallery. I’m excited to complete more paintings for this cause and will continue to support Crystal in her presentations,” she says.
Cauley is planning another exhibit for March 2020, and hopes to work toward mobile exhibits for schools, a keepsake line of artwork items and, eventually, a building to house a collection. “I feel I was chosen to do this,” she says. “I feel like it’s spiritual. I have the passion and enthusiasm. I love talking about history, I have the patience and I love to hear the stories. It’s about preservation.”
To learn more about the project and upcoming exhibits, find Black History Collective of Henderson County, NC on Facebook. Anyone interested in working on the project is invited to email Crystal Cauley at email@example.com.